Most people know that between 1892 and 1954, the Ellis Island Immigration Station was the primary immigration center for the United States. Over twelve million people arrived here after arduous journeys, seeking better lives and more opportunities in America.
Many people also know that before new arrivals (primarily those traveling in steerage) could disembark, they had to submit to a health and legal inspection. Approximately 90 percent of immigrants passed the "six second" health inspections, but those who did not were held for further inspections, treatments, and sometimes quarantine on the island’s south side.
Many people are unaware that an entire hospital ward exists here, taking up about half of the island's total land space. Twenty-nine structures, including a 750-bed hospital complex, measles ward, hospital director's house, and mortuary were once in active use.
An amazing number of medical conditions were seen by Ellis Island's doctors. According to the historic site's home page, "by 1916, it was said that a doctor could identify numerous medical conditions (ranging from anemia to goiters to varicose veins) just by glancing at an immigrant." Most of those quaranteened for contageous diseases like scarlet fever, thyphoid, or pink eye were eventually allowed into the country if cured of their afflictions. Only about 2% of immigrants were denied entry during the station's history.
Most of the buildings on the south side have been left to ruin. Although a fundraising campaign successfully renovated the entry hall and other buildings on the north side, which now house the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the island's medical center sits abandoned.
Abandoned, but not neglected. For the past decade, Save Ellis Island has led the charge to stabalize and rehabilitate these structures.
In 2007, the south side’s Ferry Building, an Art Deco structure built by the Works Progress Administration in 1934, reopened. Here visitors can see an exhibit on the island's medical history or take a guided tour with one of Save Ellis's volunteer educators. Future plans include renovating the laundry, hospital outbuilding, and hospital lawn, among other spaces. The goal is to provide visitors with a full understanding of how Ellis Island operated.
Recently, some of our education staff were lucky enough to take a guided tour of the island's south side (one of the perks of working for a history museum). Here are their photos from the trip:
Building on the south side
Interior of an admin building
- Posted by Penny King